Politics

Suit: Gov’t Officials Illegally Divert Funds From Dying PACER Website To Buy Goodies

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor
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Federal courts charge fees to access records in an archaic database, but extra revenue is illegally spent on things like flat-screen monitors rather than upgrading the outdated system, a class action lawsuit alleges.

The public is charged 10 cents per page to access federal court documents through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database, which “looks like an artifact of the 1990s,” Wired.com reported Monday.

“It’s quite ironic that the money made from PACER is being diverted to all these other purposes, and yet they’re not even improving the actual system,” Deepak Gupta, a lead attorney on the case, told Wired. (RELATED: White House Hit With Suit Alleging Systematic Obstruction Of Transparency)

The fees are arguably justified since running and maintaining PACER costs money. But the charges ultimately yield more revenue than the database costs, considering that anyone from lawyers to journalists rely on the system to access court documents, which can be hundreds of pages long per case. (RELATED: Pentagon Can’t Answer A Question Because It Would Cost $660 Million)

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reported that it collected $145 million in PACER fees in 2014, but previously projected that operating costs were less than $30 million annually, according to Wired. Yet PACER saw only $12.2 million in improvements, while another $28.9 million went to unrelated courtroom upgrades.

“PACER profits apparently financed flat-screen monitors for jurors and new audio systems for courtrooms, among other things,” Wired reporter April Glaser wrote.

Those expenses are illegal, since the E-Government Act of 2002 only allows courts to charge enough to provide services, according to the class action lawsuit’s plaintiffs – National Veterans Legal Service Program, National Consumer Law Center and Alliance for Justice.

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